Royals Farm Report: August 25th
Naturals, Storm Chasers, Cougars solidify playoff chances
The Omaha Storm Chasers (Pacific Coast League) had a night to remember on Wednesday, as their win over Round Rock combined with Memphis’ loss allowed the Storm Chasers to clinch the American Northern Division title. This marks the first time since 1999 that the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate has made the postseason.
As he has all season, Luis Mendoza delivered for Omaha this week. He went six innings in each of his two starts since last week’s report, allowing a total of three runs. The 2011 PCL Pitcher of the Year has now won his last four starts, lowering his league-leading ERA to 2.18 in the process. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain had a big week at the plate. Though his 13-game hitting streak was snapped on Tuesday, Cain responded with a 5-for-5 performance in Wednesday’s crucial contest.
Former Natural Cody Clark has slumped in recent days, as the catcher is just 1-for-23 in his last six games. Clark has not driven in a run since Aug. 18 and did not homer at all in the last month. Fellow backstop Manny Pina has just three hits in five games since rejoining Omaha following a stint in the big leagues.
Seven days ago, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Texas League) had a commanding six-game lead in the circuit’s North Division. At the time, the club’s magic number stood at seven. Since then, however, the Naturals have lost six of their last seven games and have fallen into a first-place tie with the red-hot Tulsa Drillers, winners of nine straight. The division’s second playoff spot will be decided from Sep. 3-5, when the teams meet in Tulsa on the final three days of the regular season.
The Naturals’ recent struggles are no fault of Tim Smith and Ben Theriot, as the two left-hand batters have hit well in recent days. Smith is 6-for-10 with a homer in his last three games, while Theriot is 8-for-11 in his last four. Third baseman Mario Lisson hit his 30th home run as a Natural on Wednesday, establishing a new franchise record. On the mound, southpaw Will Smith showed why he was selected as the Naturals’ Pitcher of the Year in his last start, allowing just an unearned run while racking up 10 strikeouts in a game for the first time this season.
Promoted from Wilmington early this week, Elisaul Pimentel made his Double-A debut on Wednesday and got a rude welcome to the level. Pimentel allowed five runs in three innings, including back-to-back homers in a four-run first inning. Reliever Edgar Garcia allowed four home runs in the course of one outing on Monday, including two in the decisive tenth inning as the Drillers finished a sweep of the Naturals.
The Wilmington Blue Rocks (Carolina League) have been eliminated from playoff contention but did not go away quietly, posting a 4-3 record over the last seven days. The Blue Rocks have four more games in their 2011 campaign, which concludes at home on Labor Day against the Frederick Keys.
Allen Caldwell has pitched well since joining the Wilmington rotation about a week ago. In his most recent start, Caldwell allowed just one hit in 5 2/3 scoreless frames, striking out six in a win over Myrtle Beach. AZL Royals Pitcher of the Year Andrew Stueve made the jump to Wilmington last week and has not allowed a run through three innings with the Blue Rocks. Though he is hitless in his last two games, Yem Prades racked up a pair of multi-hit games within the last week and leads the team with a .297 batting average.
In what has been another up-and-down season for the right-hander Tim Melville had a rough start on Tuesday, as he was tagged for four runs on six hits in just 4 2/3 against the Pelicans. Melville also issued five walks in the contest. Offensively, outfielder Whit Merrifield went just 3-for-20 in six games since last week’s report.
Like Triple-A Omaha, the Kane County Cougars (Midwest League) wrapped up a playoff spot on Wednesday, in their case with a win over the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Former Natural and Northwest Arkansas resident Vance Wilson has a chance to get his club a Midwest League title in his first year as a minor-league manager.
Though he endured an 0-for-12 stretch earlier in the week, former Arkansas Razorback Brett Eibner helped Kane County secure their postseason future with a pair of multi-hit games in the last two days. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, Eibner went 4-for-8 with a double, a triple and three walks. On the mound, right-handerJason Adam has excelled of late, allowing just one run over five innings in each of his last two starts.
Though his league-leading ERA remains below 2.00, Greg Billo has now been roughed up in three consecutive starts. On Aug. 27 against Peoria, Billo yielded four runs on a season-high 11 hits. The right-hander is expected to have one more start to right the ship before postseason play begins. 18-year-old Cheslor Cuthbertis experiencing the grind of a full professional season for the first time, and the lengthy schedule may be taking its toll. Cuthbert hit just .124 with four extra-base hits in the month of August, but his season stat line still shows a player who is holding his own as one of the youngest bats in the league.
The Idaho Falls Chukars (Pioneer League) are the team in the organization that will play the deepest into September during the regular season. While all the full-season teams will wrap up by Labor Day, the Chukars’ 2011 campaign does not conclude until Sep. 8. Still technically alive for postseason play, the Chukars must make up a six-game deficit in a little over a week.
Right-hander Edwin Carl put the finishing touches on a ridiculous Pioneer League campaign with three strikeouts in two innings on Aug. 26 before a promotion to Kane County. Carl departs the Chukars with an absurd total of 71 strikeouts – against three walks – in 33 innings out of the Idaho Falls ‘pen. Named Idaho Falls Player of the Year, Runey Davis notched a hit in all but one of his games last week to keep his batting average level at .331 with an impressive .437 on-base percentage. Challenged by a promotion to this level, 2011 draftee Cameron Gallagher is 2-for-7 with a homer early into his stint with the Chukars.
Reliever Jose Sanchez was tagged for a pair of losses in his last two appearances, allowing a total of nine earned runs in five innings of work. Even though nine of the runs he has allowed have been unearned, Sanchez still has a bloated 9.19 ERA. At the plate, catcher Tyler Smith has one hit in his last nine at bats and is hitting just .188 with a lone double in his time in the Pioneer League.
One of two affiliates to conclude their respective seasons this week are the Burlington Royals (Appalachian League), who dropped their final three contests to finish the year at 24-44, tied with the Bristol White Sox for the worst record in their league.
Selected as Burlington’s Player of the Year, outfielder Jorge Bonifacio finished the season with hits in nine of his last 10 games. Bonifacio led the club with 20 doubles and finished tied for second with seven home runs. On the mound, Nick Graffeo ended his run with the B-Royals with a win over Greeneville in his final start. Posting a 2.04 ERA while splitting time between the ‘pen and the rotation, Graffeo was deservedly honored as the club’s Pitcher of the Year.
Though he homered in the season finale, Murray Watts finished the season with just two hits in his final eight games. After struggling at Kane County earlier in the year, Watts hit just .222 with Burlington and will work through the offseason to realize the power potential residing in his 6’7” frame. Reliever Andrea Pizziconiended the season by allowing six runs between his last two appearances, taking the loss against Johnson City on Aug. 28.
The AZL Royals (Arizona League) also concluded their season this past week, finishing the complex league season in last place at 22-34. Still, the true purpose of the circuit should not be forgotten, as the past two and a half months have given recent draftees and international signees valuable reps in their first taste of professional baseball.
Terrance Gore put the finishing touches on a solid run with the AZL Royals with a three-hit game on Aug. 28 against the Padres’ affiliate. In 35 games in Arizona, Gore hit .340 with a .447 on-base percentage and was not caught in 17 stolen base attempts. D’Andre Toney matched Gore with a .340 average and finished the season even better. Toney had three hits in each of the last two games and totaled two triples, a homer and six RBI in those contests.
Collectively, the club’s pitching staff had trouble finding consistent success, thanks in part to the notably hitter-friendly weather down in Arizona. The team’s pitchers combined for a 6.11 ERA. Cesar Ogando finished the season by allowing three runs in four innings, wrapping his stint in Arizona with a 10.52 ERA. With that said, at just 19 years old, Ogando’s best days of baseball are undoubtedly still in front of him.
Former Naturals outside the Kansas City organization
Last week brought one of the proudest moments in the baseball career of Juan Abreu, who made his Major League debut with the Astros on 8/29. Abreu became the 23rd player to reach the big leagues after playing for the Naturals. Though he allowed a run in two-thirds of an inning, Abreu fanned a pair and will have a chance to establish himself in the season’s final month.
In departing for Houston, Abreu left the Pacific Coast League, the circuit in which Blake Johnson is currently plying his trade. Johnson currently has a 6.17 ERA for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, allowing a run in each of his last four appearances. Over in the International League, Jordan Parraz has continued his solid season for the Yankees’ Triple-A club. Parraz has hit safely in four of his last five games and carries a solid .361 on-base percentage with Scranton/Wilkes Barre. In the same league as Parraz is Ben Swaggerty, who so far has an 8.02 ERA in 14 games with Gwinnett.
At the Double-A level, Jeff Howell is hitting at a .370 clip with five extra-base hits through his first seven games with the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston’s Eastern League club. He now plays in the same league as Chris McConnell, who is now hitting just .213 for Harrisburg.
Down in the Southern League, Ernesto Mejia continues to lead the group of former Naturals now playing for the Mississippi Braves. Mejia knocked in three runs within the last week, giving him 89 RBI to go along with his 35 doubles and 22 homers. Among Mejia’s teammates with the M-Braves are Ed Lucas (.263 AVG, .335 OBP) and Rowdy Hardy (3.14 ERA).
At the Advanced-A level, Harold Mozingo has a solid 3.26 ERA for the Dunedin Blue Jays. Finally, a pair of former Naturals remains among the walking wounded, asDan Cortes (Seattle Mariners) and Jose Duarte (Jupiter Hammerheads) both reside on the disabled list.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark, located in Springdale. Visit our website, nwanaturals.com, for information on season tickets and ticket plans.